808 Bass and Beyond: Technique Roundup

A deep dive into the various techniques for sound designing and mixing 808 style sub-bass.


In the first part of this series we covered the origin of the TR-808, the evolution of the 808 kick drum sound, and how it continues to dominate the charts. The style of the 808 kick drum is constantly evolving and new techniques are developing that push the sound even further.

We’ve put together a guide to the various techniques for sound designing and mixing kick bass sounds alongside our favorite YouTube tutorial videos.

In the third part, we’ll show you how we’ve streamlined all these techniques in our new synth SubLab.


1. Turn any 808 kick into a sub with the zero-crossing method

This technique comes up quite a bit on production Youtube tutorials, and it’s known as the Zero-Crossing method.

The basic idea is to load your 808s into a sampler and cleanly loop the sustained sine tone part. This turns your sample into a pitched instrument with control over glides, etc.

The bass in Drake’s “God Plan” is another example of this technique in action.

Check the video below for a detailed breakdown of the bass in this song.


2. Tuning your 808 samples

When you start working with your 808 sample, you’ll need to make sure it’s tuned correctly. In this video, Busy Works Beats shows how to tune your 808 in Fruity Loops. The technique can be applied in any DAW, you just need a guitar tuner plug-in.


3. Side-chain your kick and 808s

With 808 style kick basses, you want the attack thump to cut through the mix and have enough room to hit hard. One way to do this is to have a compressor that makes your sub-bass dip out when the kick hits.

Internet Money gives a good explanation of this technique.


4. Wide Bass

Traditionally, the rule is that sub-bass has to be mono. Our ears can’t hear the direction of low-frequency sounds. If your bass is stereo and then summed to mono during mastering, having stereo phase differences in your bass can cause one channel to cancel out the other.

However, rules are made to be broken. A technique that is getting covered a lot recently on YouTube is Wide Bass. Using a high-pass filter, sample delays and distortion you can add stereo interest to you sub-bass.

Before I go too far down the rabbit hole here, we’ll get the breakdown from Sean Divine.


5. Distort your sub-tone for hard 808s

Another popular technique to make your sub-bass more interesting is to high-pass filter your 808 and then distort it.

If you high-pass filter before adding distortion, you’ll avoid generating harmonics from the lowest tones of your sub. Those low harmonics can make your bass muddy and lose focus in the mix. Check the video below for details.


6. 808 slide notes in FruityLoops

Slides are a mainstay of trap production, adding movement and energy to the bass as you lead into a new section of the track.

This tutorial shows how to get your slides game right using FruityLoops. In Fruity, you can create rhythmically tight slides that always start and end on the beat.


7. Optimize your melodies for sub-bass

We don’t really hear sub-bass, we feel it. So what happens when your track is played on ear-buds or laptop speakers that can’t reproduce frequencies this low?

This can be be fixed at the mixing stage using plug-ins such as Wave’s MaxxBass, but a more accurate method that sounds even better is to start upstream while you’re writing/producing the track. Again, Sean Divine does a great job explaining how to optimize your sub-bass notes while writing to avoid retro-fixing later on when you mix down.


8. Use a spectrogram

This is more of a toolbox tip than a specific sound design technique. Spectrograms are an essential tool for sub-bass production because they allow you to visualise your sub-bass since your ears can’t accurately hear such low frequencies.

It’s also super useful for finding the root note of your 808 samples and to visualise which frequencies need to be cut to prevent your kick and the sustained tone parts from clashing. Check how MrDifferent uses a spectrogram while sound designing his sub-basses.


9) Delayed “Plug” 808

Delaying the start of the kick is another way to add interest and uniqueness to you sub-bass. In the video below, Seri breaks down this technique, using Ableton.


808 style sub-bass is constantly evolving, so we’ll keep updating this post as we find new and interesting techniques.

Keep an eye out for Part III; We’re going to introduce our new synth which streamlines all of these techniques in one plug-in.

If you have a favorite technique that we’ve missed add it in the comments below 👇